My Heart is a Wound {Book Club}

I have a proposal. 

City of Tranquil Light: A Novel by Bo Caldwell needs to become mandatory reading for anyone in our line of work. But more than that, it should be read three times:

  • Before a person goes to the field—to cast a vision of what a life of service really looks like.
  • Several years into living on the field—because aspects you couldn’t appreciate before you’d actually lived overseas will now make SO.MUCH.SENSE.
  • When the Lord has called you to leave—Will and Katherine verbalize the depths of this change in ways I have not seen anywhere else (and, hello, I even wrote a book on transitions and paid good money for debriefing. All worth it, yes, but so is City of Tranquil Light!).

Very unexpectedly to me—I think of all of our summer reading this has been the one I am most grateful we are reading. The poetry of language. The depth of emotion. The very ordinariness of life. The unending physical needs. The extra-ordinariness of a time period in history. The presence and seemingly absence of God.

Each section we have read has been rich and deep. This week, the stage of Will and Katherine’s life and ministry bring forth significant questions that you and I probably will face in a different form.

Do you buy opium to ease suffering? Katherine knew it was illegal, but with dying patients, she believed it to be the kinder path to take. “I am less sure of what Will would think, so he is unaware of this practice and I have no intention of telling him.”

  • How do you decide when to break rules/laws to alleviate suffering?
  • How do you navigate difference of opinion within a marriage, team, or organization on approach?

“Remember this well, I thought, this night is the gift.” The magistrate and city hosted a banquet for Will and Katherine after they all survived the war, presenting them with a beautifully carved chest.

  • There are times in our service, when those we came to serve, bless or acknowledge us in ways we never anticipated. But often it comes because we have suffered together.
  • Have you had a “Remember this well” moment?

There was another gift, less tangible but just as real—the gift of trust.” and later on the page: “But those gifts came at a price, and although I was a grateful man after the siege of Kuang P’ing Ch’eng, I was also a haunted one. [He goes one to talk about the guns pointed at Katherine.]”

  • I appreciated how Will and Katherine shared with the reader the messy braid of ministry and how we hold equally true parts at the same time. True trust came after years of serving. Real suffering came with the years of suffering. Both were true, neither negating the other; instead, they informed each other.

“Finally he [the magistrate] met my [Will’s] eyes. ‘I believe the time is coming when you will need to leave us to protect us.’ His words stunned me. But I knew what he said was true.” 

  • Oh the complexities and depth of emotions when our presence becomes a liability to the ones we love so much. I know some of you have had to leave very abruptly without enough time to process what is happening before it happens. Will held this in his heart until Mo Yun also pointed out how poorly Katherine’s health was and that leaving might be the only way for her to live.
  • There are no simple or easy answers to when to leave the field for political or family reasons. I also understand that this may not be the best forum to talk about what those discussions have been like for you and loved ones. But know this, you are not alone.

Katherine wrote in her journal: “But each year I have understood more clearly how vulnerable we are, and I find myself longing for something I’ve never cared about before: I want us to be safe.”

  • As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed this shift within myself as well. I don’t know if it is a part of the aging process or an increased awareness of how painful loss is. When I first went to the field I was young and healthy, it never occurred to me that I might become seriously ill and nearly die (so I think we could add ‘mildly foolish’ to the list!). How have you noticed this shift within yourself? Maybe your shift is in the opposite direction — maybe you were overly cautious before.

For the sake of time I’m going to hit on other themes more quickly. How about Hsiao Lao becoming a Christian? I could relate to Will wondering if I have done enough. That passage encouraged me that being faithful in what I do matters as much as what I say. Or when they returned to California, not knowing what was next professionally for them.

This line nailed how I think I’ll feel at the end of my days: “While the calendar tells me that Katherine and I spent twenty-seven years in China, that thirty-three years have passed since we left, and that I have been without her for nearly twenty years, these numbers do not ring true. I feel instead like a man who lived nearly all his life in China, with a few of his later years in America and a few of those without his companion.”

Space and time are weird, aren’t they? The numbers of my life do not ring true to me either.

I like Will and Katherine and was sad to come to the end of this book.

Lots to talk about in this section! What stood out to you?



P.S. Next week we start Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Used copies are available, $9.99 on Kindle, or this free PDF versionWe’ll read it 

August 30—Parts 1 and 2

Sept 6— Parts 3-5

Sept 13—Parts 6-8. Get ready for another book that may vie for “book of the summer!” I’ve already gotten emails from people who have started it saying they cannot wait to discuss it in community.


  1. T August 23, 2016

    My remember this well moment? When a very close friend became a follower after 5 yrs, and later married another of our friends, who’d been a believer for several years before her. When she had an Aha Moment, realizing why I’d left my family and country and come to hers. People here often think we are bad family members for leaving our family behind, and that can be hard to take, especially when I’d rather have lived down the block from my parents (that had been my life plan!!). When my friend understood, it was, and is such a blessing to me! We’ve never spoken of it in words, but I read it in her eyes one day. We now live in different cities, but when I’m having a hard time being misunderstood or thought badly of by not-yet-believers, I think of her.

    1. Amy Young August 26, 2016

      Oh T, these moments are such a treasure, aren’t they? In God’s economy, they are such deposits in ways we (at least I) can’t fully explain to others. Thanks for sharing yours!

    2. Michele Womble August 31, 2016

      Thanks for sharing that moment, T. It is such a blessing when our friends “get us”. I’m glad you shared that she didn’t say anything but you saw it in her eyes. Somehow that makes it more poignant to me.

      I think my remember this well moment – or one of them, anyway – is when my friends visited me (one by one) in the hospital after my surgery….

  2. SarahW August 24, 2016

    Amy, I haven’t been able to read along on this particular book club journey but I was so pleased to see this as a book club selection. I happened upon City of Tranquil Light during my first year ‘home’ from the field and it was a real balm for my very disoriented soul. You have done well in describing the poignancy and richness of this book! I find that it both opens and eases the ache of another time and place. So much of this story found resonance with me in ways that other books and resources didn’t – I think stories hold power of connection and I felt in reading this that I had found fellow sojourners.
    This month marks the crossing of a threshold – it’s my anniversary month for re-entry, and it also marks the point at which the time I’ve been home is now greater than the time that I was away. It’s a good time to reflect – I remember sitting with the questions in the darkness, begging light and finding the grace to walk into the answers when the time came. I likewise find that the magnitude of that time is not well measured by the years it encompassed.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts this week – it did my heart good.

    1. Amy Young August 26, 2016

      Sarah, your comment touched the deep parts of me. I think you are spot on that a story hits bits that other resources can’t (and reminds me that we need to have such variety in resources, any one can’t be all that we need!). I want to find a way to sit in the space you are in — having been back home now longer than you were on the field. If your experience with people is anything like mine, people have time frames in their minds and think we “should” be at a certain space. But I found Will’s description of time to be so right. So, as others may think your time abroad is fading into the background, I want to honor how very real it still is. Hugs and love, Amy

      1. Michele Womble August 31, 2016

        “as others may think your time abroad is fading into the background” …Sarah, can I join with Amy to honor how real it is, too?

    2. Michele Womble August 31, 2016

      YES, Sarah, I love how you put it “the magnitude of that time is not well measured by the years it encompassed.” ….I like the way Will put it in the book, too, but you were able to capture that whole thought in one sentence.

  3. Michele Womble August 31, 2016

    So, I just finished the book, a little behind schedule, but I finished it. And I am sitting here looking at the comment box, and am finding that my heart is a little too full of the book to be able to say anything about these last chapters yet. So I may have to come back later and try again.

    But, oh, the agony of those last chapters! The long goodbye’s! I hated that it was so long, because I was so close to tears and wanted it to be over already – and yet, it was so right that it was so long like that because that’s how it is – she described it perfectly – touching the items in the house, drinking in those things -places and faces – that are so dear and that you suspect (well – they knew) you may not see again until we all meet there. Saying goodbye and watching everyone disappear for the last time, while you numbly move away –

    and of course the “long goodbye” with Katherine…

    I loved the quote where he said he did not feel at home in the retirement home, it was not home to him, but he didn’t mind it because it made him homesick for his real home (or did he say he didn’t mind the homesicknesses because it reminded him…)

    And YES, what Sarah said, “the magnitude of the time is not measured well by the years….”

  4. Kiera September 1, 2016

    I finished the book in one fell swoop tonight (my husband is away so it makes it easier to spend lots of time reading.) The sentence that stuck out to me most was this: “The sacrifice wasn’t in going to China; the sacrifice was in leaving.” This sentence resonated with me more than any other.

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